A local start-up that allows individuals to invest in commercial real estate has quickly expanded from doing its own deals locally to placing more than $10 million in investments with developers across the country.
District natives Benjamin and Daniel Miller founded their crowd-sourcing real estate company, Fundrise, in 2011 and initially used it to allow locals to invest in their own projects, such as the ongoing overhaul of an H Street storefront. That space is to house an Asian food market called Maketto by entrepreneur Erik Bruner-Yang and a shop for the streetwear fashion outfit Durkyl.
Since then Fundrise has been rapidly adopted by developers looking to find new sources of capital or new buzz for their projects. Fundrise allows them to create networks of investors and market shares in their projects to the general public.
Developers have used the platform to close investments for more than a dozen projects totaling more than $10 million. Money is currently being raised for four projects, in Austin, Texas; San Francisco; Philadelphia and Brooklyn, N.Y. When those projects close, the total raised through Fundrise could top $12 million, said Brandon Jenkins, director of product development.
The growth is likely to accelerate, Jenkins said, as another 60 companies are actively working to build their networks using Fundrise and another 150 or so are in the process of launching their own networks.
Jenkins said the company is seeing developers use the platform both to more easily connect with friends, family and partners who already invest with them as well as to reach acquaintances, neighbors or even strangers who want to take a shot at investing in a local project.
“That sort of social connection can now be much more easily leveraged with Fundrise,” he said.
Among the developers who have recently signed up to use the project is Tysons Corner developer Aaron Georgelas. His company, the Georgelas Group, was founded in 1964 by his grandfather. It has remained a family business since then, as he, his father and his uncle have all helped grow it.
The Georgelas Group started acquiring land in Tysons in 1982 and it is now one of the biggest landowners there. The firm was Fairfax County’s selection to be the first developer to build under a new plan for Tysons. The company now has the rights to build 5.5 million square feet near the Spring Hill Metro station on the Silver Line.
Georgelas has begun using Fundrise to market a smaller project in which he would acquire land to build and sell about 35 houses. He has not disclosed the details yet, but said it will be the first time his family opened a deal to the public. “We’ve been around for 50 years and we’ve never opened up our platform to investors,” among the public, he said.
Georgelas said that eventually he would like to open up his Tysons projects to the public. “People get to invest in their community. They know these sites. They have very real insight into the community,” he said.
Some criticism of Fundrise — and crowd-sourcing in general — has emerged from personal advisors and financial watchdogs because of concerns about risks, fees and possible conflicts of interests. The structure of deals can also raise concerns: Investors in the Millers’ H Street project, for instance, could presently only sell their shares back to the Millers if they decide they want to do something different with their money.
Georgelas said he isn’t far enough in the process to disclose what he will charge as a development fee or what sort of protections investors in the project might enjoy should a project or the market go sour.
“We will put ourselves and our project in a position to be successful if the market allows it to be,” Georgelas said “At the end of the day, if you believe that residential [real estate] is headed in the right direction, we should be fairly successful.”
Miller said he is working to address some of the concerns that have been raised thus far and pointed out that crowd-sourcing will become more simple and transparent once the government implements the long-awaited JOBS Act, and sets out clear rules for raising such funds.
“We’re still waiting on the true crowd-funding provision,” he said.
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